If you want to buy migratory birds, Batamaloo is the place you can do it. Although their hunting is banned, the birds are easily available in the open market, in areas around HMT and Qamarwari.
Migratory birds are being poached in the wetlands of Hokarsar and Anchar, where they come from distant Siberia, to escape the harsh winter. Some of these birds travel thousands of miles, only to be shot dead, with impunity.
The authorities seem to be sleeping about the matter.
With the help of a local source this reporter traced a poacher.
In the adjoining wetlands of Anchar Lake in Srinagar, a piece of marshy land surrounded by water is all one imagines, but as one explores the place one finds lush green land spread over 100 acres. Sun peeps through an outstanding symmetry of willow trees.
It is spring and almost everything has turned green. Inside the fresh water marshes, thousands of water birds have taken over every last inch of the wetland.
Among them are White-fronted Goose, Water Rail, Pintail Duck and Gadwall who claim their own little patch along with birdwatchers, and poachers.
As one admires the beauty of the place, the calm is broken by sudden loud bangs.
Guiding us into the territory Wasim (name changed) who is a poacher, and kills birds on a regular basis, says, “Today you will see a different world and I assure you that it will be more beautiful the Sonmarg and Gulmarg.”
These wet lands are the temporary homes of the migratory birds. Bird watchers throng these wetlands to watch and photograph. Miles away from the bird watch tower in the interior of the wetland, poachers are warming up.
The valley of Kashmir is known for its fresh water lakes, which are interconnected in a web like structure, to form a mesh of green and blue wet lands.
“You will be amazed to see the beauty of this land, wetland is not only about birds, it has many other beauties with in it, it also has some edible varieties which one can eat like Sekal, bumbh, kain bubh, lotus stem and water caltrop,” says Wasim.
A few people sitting by the bank ask the poacher who we. They seem uncomfortable with our presence. As soon as we try to start a conversation, they leave in their boat through the water way.
Wasim assembles his gun. A man approaching in a boat waves his hand and greets him.
“I had gone for hunting,” he tells Wasim. In the back of his boat he carries his day’s hard work. Two Pintail Ducks, a Water Rail and Gadwall. The birds were completely still.
They seemed to be having a sound sleep.
He passed them on to us so that we can see them, and offers us tea and bread that he carries in his boat, because hunting these birds can mean spending the whole day inside the wetland.
The gun shots repeatedly go on after breaks of 20-30 minutes. The poacher tells us, “Every single gunshot means one bird, a poacher hardly makes a wrong shot.”
We heard around 6 shots. Going by this estimate it means that on an average 50-60 birds are killed every day in wetlands across Kashmir.
Lakhs of birds arrive in Kashmir from various parts of central Asia and Europe for seasonal breeding and survival. World Bird Migratory Day organization says that these ‘guests’ are an important part of the eco-system, and play a vital role in nutrient cycling, seed dispersion and flower pollination.
Poaching in this region has proved to be disastrous. World over, millions of birds are hunted every year. These birds who move across nations impact ecosystems of a large area and this unsustainable and unchecked hunting is causing a decline in migratory bird populations.
Unchecked hunting is not the only a threat to these birds, fishing in these wetland is another way their survival comes under threat.
“Right now there is less poaching because it is time for breeding, so we prefer not to kill them, but few people still do,” he says.
So, he denies shooting and asks to come over after 15 days.
When asked why does he hunt, he replies, “It is my passion and I love eating wild stuff, it tastes great because they grown on natural food, free of any chemical or artificial interference.”
Wasim has been hunting since the past 20 years and owns a licensed gun for “self defense”.
The Wildlife Protection Act makes poaching an offence, which can get the violator imprisoned.
The wetlands fall under the jurisdiction of J&K wildlife Protection department and have been declared as ‘protected sites’ by them.
Nadeem Qadri, the state’s first environmentalist lawyer runs the organization Centre for Environmental Law (CEL) which has been working to preserve the environment and punish the violators
“The judicial apathy is such that since the implementation of the amended act of wildlife 2002, charge sheets and cases have been filled and trails are going on, but no one has been convicted yet,” says Nadeem.
The other loop hole in the act is that the only person empowered to arrest the poacher is the wildlife warden, and in case the conservation authority wants to do that, they have to serve a 60 day advance notice.
According to Nadeem, a landmark step was taken by former Divisional Commissioner Bandipora Shah Faisal. “He issued an order that all licensed guns within the radius of 2 kilometers of the Wular Lake should be submitted at the concerned police station during the season of migratory birds.”
“Alone in the wetlands of Pampore CEL has been able to bring down poaching down by 99% and the other 1% are poachers with illegal guns,” Nadeem adds. The organization has also signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the department of wildlife protection and is extending their support to them in establishing anti-poaching units and protocols.
According to Wasim there are more than 50 hunters in the wetland who come from various areas. The poacher lives in a nearby area, which has only a few houses.“I am the lion so I live alone,” he adds
The poachers often don’t sell these birds, for them it is pure passion.
While investigating the issue it was revealed that in February 2017 Imtiyaz Ahmad Wani, block in charge forester Hokarsar got inputs that a person named Ghulam Rasool Dar is involved in poaching. Dar, according to Wani also happens to be a casual labourer at Hokersar office
While arresting Dar on the spot of crime, Wani was beaten up by Dar, and his fellow colleagues did not even came to his rescue.
Imtiyaz has filed an application for FIR against accused under JK wildlife protection act 1978 (amendment 2002) which states 353/341 RPC must be initiated against the accused.
The judiciary is yet to convict Dar even when the wildlife protection act 2002 states that poaching is a non-bailable offence.
Abdul Rouf, Wildlife Warden, Wetland Hokarsar, denies all the allegations and says no such event has been recorded.
Investigation by FPK has revealed some startling facts, which will be part of the follow-up to this series.